Skiffley Creek and Dry Branch   Jess Riddle
  Nov 18, 2006 19:31 PST 

Skiffley Creek, Dry Branch, Groundhog Creek, Rube Rock Branch, and Tom
Hall Branch all radiate out from Big Bend in the Pigeon River Gorge.
The gorge lies in North Carolina just east of Great Smokies Mountain
National Park, and the mouth of Skiffley Creek is less than five miles
from the mouth of Baxter Creek and its fantastic forests. Skiffley
Creek was identified as an exceptional high basal area site by W. W.
Ashe during his extensive surveys of the eastern forests during the
early 1900's. More recently, Josh Kelly visited the stream, and found
that while the original forest had been cut during the intervening
decades, the second growth still reflected the site's original high

The steep, rhododendron covered slopes and low ridges of lower
Skiffley Creek made a much less promising introduction to the stream
itself. However, a short distance upstream, the ridge to the west
enlarges and provides more shelter and the slopes moderate. On that
slope, the rhododendron gives way to striped maples and small hemlocks
in the understory, and tuliptree takes over the canopy with scattered
northern red oaks, white oaks, pignut hickory, and a few white pines
on the lower slopes. Above that section, the slopes steepen and
rhododendron again takes over the understory, but tuliptrees still
dominant. That steep section abruptly gives way to broad flats well
watered by multiple forks of Skiffley Creek. Looking at maps
beforehand, that area appeared the most promising for exceptional
forests, but rock cairns at the site clearly identified the area as an
old farm. The tuliptrees growing on the old fields were consistently
slender, but scattered white pine still reached 11'+ cbh and 140'+
tall. The still productive areas of the watershed apparently lie
farther upstream.

Only a low ridge separates the farmed flats from a moderately steep,
southeast facing cove that leads down to Dry Branch. Chestnut oak and
other oaks form most of the overstory in the upper part of the cove,
and white pines are invading sections of the understory not already
dominated by mountain laurel. However, one small umbrella magnolia,
more typically seen on moist acidic sites, also survives in the
understory. Farther down, the cove becomes moister with tuliptrees
assuming dominance and scattered northern red oaks and ash* also
present in the canopy, and striped maple and dogwood in the
understory. The mouth of the cove, 600' below the top, appears more
acidic with a hemlock canopy.

Species                       Cbh     Height    Stream
Ash, Biltmore               5'11"   138.7'     Dry Branch
Ash, Biltmore                6'10"   143.4'     Dry Branch
Ash, Biltmore                7'9"     147.2'     Dry Branch
Ash, Biltmore                6'3"     150.7'     Dry Branch
Basswood, White      6'4.5" 135.2'     Skiffley Creek
Birch, Black              4'0"     113.9'     Dry Branch
Hickory, Mockernut 5'10"   120.2'     Skiffley Creek
Hickory, Mockernut 5'2"     127.2'     Dry Branch
Hickory, Mockernut 5'9"     129.7'     Dry Branch
Hickory, Pignut        5'3.5"   140.9'     Dry Branch
Oak, Chestnut          10'7"    125.9'     Skiffley Creek
Oak, Northern Red   13.4"    126.6'     Skiffley Creek
Oak, Saul's                8'10"   136.2'     Dry Branch
Oak, White                9'0.5" 126.0'     Skiffley Creek
Oak, White                7'8"     128.6'     Skiffley Creek
Oak, White                8'6"     128.9'     Dry Branch
Oak, White                7'3"     134.8'     Dry Branch
Pine, Eastern White   9'8"     151.6'     Skiffley Creek
Pine, Eastern White   7'10"   158.3'     Dry Branch
Tuliptree                    9'0"     155.6'     Dry Branch
Tuliptree                    NA      156.9'     Dry Branch
Tuliptree                    6'10"   164.1'     Dry Branch

*The ashes are the same species that has previously been called green
ash at Wadakoe Mountain, lower Big Creek in the Smokies, and
elsewhere. Fruit characteristics clearly key them to white ash, but
twig characteristics, the other feature commonly used for separating
green and white ash, do not match white ash. They also differ
markedly in appearance from the white ash that grow near them at Big
Creek. Their features could, and may, be an entire separate post.
The 150.7' is the second tallest for ash with these characteristics.

The 129.7' mockernut hickory is the second tallest confirmed in NC.
The saul's oak, a fairly common hybrid between white and chestnut, is
the tallest known. The tuliptrees all appear young and many are still
rapidly growing upward.

The tall hardwoods and close proximity make comparisons between the
Dry Branch cove and lower Big Creek natural, but the forests bare
little resemblance beyond basic structure. Both areas have abundant
tuliptrees, but the typical mixed mesophytic species that play a major
role at Big Creek, basswood, silverbell, sugar maple, and buckeye at
Dry Branch are scarce, only in the understory, absent, and absent
respectively. Instead, Dry Branch has scattered hickories and white
oak. Much of that compositional difference may result from Dry Branch
being dryer and warmer even though it is slightly higher (up to 2500'
elevation). The Dry Branch site lacks large surrounding mountains, so
no cool air drains through the site. Conversely, cool air could drain
down to Big Creek from over 5000' from multiple directions. The steep
slopes of Mount Sterling to the south also shade all of lower Big
Creek. The cove on Dry Branch faces southeast with only a low, gentle
ridge on the opposite side of Dry Branch, and hence receives much more
solar radiation.

Those features give the Dry Branch Cove much more in common with tall
tree sites in South Carolina. They lack the striped maple in the
understory, but also have hickories and the same variety of ash as
major canopy components. The SC sites may also high higher soil pH
since they include scattered black walnuts, and white pine grows
poorly in them.

Jess Riddle
Re: Skiffley Creek and Dry Branch   Jess Riddle
  Nov 21, 2006 09:53 PST 


The ash of uncertain species on Dry Branch turned out to be a named
variety of white ash, Biltmore ash (Fraxinus americana var.
biltmoreana). Trees referred to as green ash in previous posts about
Big Creek NC, Savage Gulf TN, Fall Creek Falls SP TN, Panther Creek
GA, Tamassee Knob SC, Station Cove SC, and Wadakoe Mountain SC are
also biltmore ash.

Re: Skiffley Creek and Dry Branch   Joshua Kelly
  Nov 21, 2006 14:00 PST 

Nice work Jess (yeah, I know, more like play!),

Your recent outing to Skiffley Creek has put up another site in the Bald
Mountains with a 140+ Rucker index. The Bald Mountains are broadly defined
as the mountain range(s) along the NC-TN border between the Pigeon and
Nolichucky River Gorges, with a natural division into northern and southern
ranges at the French Broad River. As in other areas of the Southern Blue
Ridge, complex geology is the rule: the Hot Springs Window, areas of
Granitic Rock (Max Patch and Cranberry) and the Medisedimentary Ridges
around Rich Mountain and Camp Creek Bald are all quite unique. With only 3
sites even prospected so far (Shelton Laurel as one site), the potential
productivity of this area is promising! Below is a complete Rucker Index of
the Bald Mountains, with the site of each tree and the person who measured
it listed. MD- Michael Davie JK- Josh Kelly JR- Jess Riddle

1) Tulip Poplar 164.1' Dry Branch JR
2) White Pine 158.3' Dry Branch JR
3) Hemlock 153' Spring Creek Gorge JR
4) Biltmore Ash 150.7' Dry Branch JR
5) N. Red Oak 143.3' Green Ridge MD
6) Buckeye 142.9' Green Ridge JK
7) Pignut Hickory 140.9' Skiffley Creek JR
8) White Basswood 138' Dry Creek MD
9) Black Cherry 137.9' Black Cherry MD
10) Sycamore 137.5' Big Creek MD

RI - 146.6